When the COVID-19 virus began to shut down the world in March, Mike Henderson was in remote Papua New Guinea, translating the Book of Daniel into a local language. He and his wife Diane first came to the highlands in 1975 to work on the Bible for the Aziana people group, whose written language was still being developed. Since 2003, when the couple relocated to Florida, he’s returned annually, improving the translation and pressing on to finish the Old Testament.
Then on March 18 Mike received a two-way radio message from a mission leader, apprising him of the virus’s spread. Henderson argued to have two more weeks—a plan that crumbled the next day as airports shut down, threatening to strand him in Papua New Guinea. It would take the hand of God to get him home.
Through Mike’s 45 years of translation work, God has faithfully provided. Diane exhibited the analytical language skills her husband lacked, and together they’d tape native speakers on a bulky cassette recorder, looping the most difficult sounds for Mike to mimic.
Back in 1980, as Mike was also about to start teaching, he became fearful and thought, I can’t do this! Who am I kidding? Upset and feeling defeated, he reached for one of his tapes, jammed it into the machine, and began his listening drills. After a few moments, the voice of Charles Stanley broke in unexpectedly. Mike had a collection of In Touch preaching tapes through which Dr. Stanley encouraged him from afar. As Mike would finish listening to each one, he’d reuse the tape, recording his language drills over it. But somehow this one spot had been left untouched. He listened as Dr. Stanley described his nerves before each sermon, worried that his words would get jumbled and he’d say something wrong. Dr. Stanley understood that it was necessary to preach by faith, knowing that the Lord would help him. “God showed me,” Mike recalls, “I needed to trust Him when discouragement comes.”
It wasn’t easy, but the Hendersons carried on. They translated the language and by 2003 had completed work on the New Testament. When they moved away, the Aziana people had local leaders to oversee language learning, teach the Bible, and launch churches.
As for this year’s travel restrictions, God opened the doors necessary to get Mike back home. Making his way to Singapore was a harrowing experience, and then he was nearly sent back to Papua New Guinea. But Mike managed to board a flight to the States minutes before the airport closed. “Studying and translating Daniel had reinforced the reality that God is in absolute control over and through the chaos,” he said.
When Mike next returns to Papua New Guinea, he will oversee a Bible recording project to get the Aziana Scriptures onto the In Touch Messenger and other devices. He’s confident that as God’s Word becomes increasingly accessible to the people, faith will come by hearing and hearing through the word of Christ.
Photography by Leslie Cork